Nagaland is known in India as the land of festivals. The diversity of people and tribes, each with their own culture and heritage, creates a year-long atmosphere of celebrations. The state is inhabited by 16 major tribes as well as sub-tribes. Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, languages and attires.
All the Nagaland tribes has its own traditions, cultural practices, festivals, folk songs and dances which depicts their history. These are passed down to generations by word of mouth. A common traditional art among women is weaving. Nagas are creative by nature and every tribe has their own unique and colorful shawls and wrap-arounds. Bamboo works and carvings on wood is another special art found in Nagaland.
Name of Major 16 Nagaland tribes:
As well as sub-tribes (Above name list is in alphabetic order)
1. Angami – Nagaland Tribe:
Angamis were traditionally warriors. The Angami men spent the majority of their time in warfare with hostile villages and taking heads. The Angami Nagas are hill people depending basically on cultivation and livestock-rearing. The Angamis are known for terraced wet-rice cultivation. The Angami tribe is listed as a Scheduled Tribe of the Indian Constitution.
Angamis are popular for their woodcraft and artwork. People in India know them as the producer of bamboo works, cane furniture, beds, shawls and powerful machetes. They are very much fond of music and play music with the help of drum and flute. Angami women also practice pottery at their houses. Angamis are experts in basket making. Pork and bamboo shoot is the common dish among the Angamis. The Major religion followed by Angami Nagaland tribe is Christianity.
The territory of the Angamis is made up of the present Kohima district, which is divided into four regions: Southern Angami, Western Angami, Northern Angami, Chakhro Angami.
The former Eastern Angami have separated and are now recognised as Chakhesang.
Main Festival: Sekrenyi [Ten-day celebrations every February]
Language: Angami language.
2. Ao – Nagaland Tribe
The Aos are one of the major tribes of Nagaland. The Ao Nagas have a rich tradition of clothing, the Ao Naga warrior shawl is called Mangkotepsu. This is exclusively worn by the men folk. In the past a man had earn the right to wear this shawl by taking human heads in warfare, through acts of bravery and by offering feasts of merit as proof of his wealth.
Aos were the first Naga tribe to embrace Christianity and by virtue of this development the Aos availed themselves to Western education that came along with Christianity . In the process the Aos became the pioneering tribe among the Nagas in many fields
The Ao tribe prepares indigenous foods made from soybean. During the night on a full moon day, the seeds of soybean are selected and boiled till it become very soft. When the water is evaporated, seeds are covered with the banana or taro (Colocasia esculenta (Linn.) Schott) leaves, kept over fire for more than 30 min till it gives pungent smell. On the other hand, the boiled soybean kept for over 3-4 days and mixed with suitable fish and dried over fire, then kept in the container and eaten as needed. This ethnic food is taken mostly with the tea, which is considered nutritious.
Mokokchung, one of the districts in Nagaland, is considered as the home of the Ao Naga tribe.
Main Festival: Moatsu Mong [Three-day Celebration, first week of May every year]
Language: Mongsen Chungli language.
3. Chakhesang – Nagaland Tribe
Chakhesangs are the former Eastern Angami, who have separated from the Angami Naga tribe, and are now recognized as a separate tribe. It is a major tribe of Nagaland. Most of the villages of this tribes falls under the Phek District and Pfutsero, Chozuba sub-division of Nagaland. The tribe is basically divided into two groups known as “Chokri” and “Khezha”. Originally Chakhesang consisted of three major sub-tribe, namely “chokri”,“khezha” and “sangtam”, from where the word chakhesang came from, taking the first syllable of each tribe namely “cha” from “chokri”, “khe” from “khezha” and “sang” from “sangtam”. Now Chakhesang consist of two major group “chokri” and “khezha” and one minor group “zhamai” or “zhavame”, who belong to Poumai Naga tribe living predominantly in Manipur. The Major religion followed by Chakhesang tribe is Christianity.
Chakhesangs tribehas rich traditional folklore’s, songs and other traditional practices. The other uniqueness of this tribe is its geographical location. it has easy access to many neighboring tribes both in Manipur and Nagaland.
The Chakhesang tribes are mainly found in the Phek district of Nagaland
Main Festival: Sukrunye & Thsukhenyie [Celebrated every year in the month of January & May]
Language: Chokri language and Khezha.
4. Chang – Nagaland Tribe
Chang tribes of Nagaland, is one of the recognized Scheduled Tribes in India. Like several other Naga tribes, Chang’s practiced headhunting in the pre-British era. The person with maximum number of hunted heads was given the position of lakbou (chief), who would settle the village disputes. He was entitled to maintain special decorative marks in his house, and to wear special ceremonial dress during the festivals. After the headhunting was abolished, the village disputes were resolved by a council of informally elected village leaders.
The traditional Chang cuisine is non-vegetarian, and comprises a variety of meats and fish. Rice is the staple food of the tribe. Milk, fruits and vegetables were not a major part of the traditional Chang food habits, but have been adopted widely in the modern times.
Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the Chang tribe, and jhum cultivation is practiced. Rice, millet, Job’s Tears, pulses and vegetables are the main crops. Trade and business were practiced mainly as subsidiary occupations. The Changs carried out barter trade with the other tribes (Yimchungers, Khiamngan, Ao and Konyak), exchanging shawls and other garments for the things they needed. Crafts such as wood-carving, spinning, weaving, pottery and basketry are also pursued.The traditional territory of the Changs lies in the central Tuensang district. Their principal village wasMozungjami/Haku in Tuensang, from which the tribe expanded to the other villages.
Main Festival: Naknyulem [Celebrated every year in the month of July]
Language: Chang language.
5. Kachari – Nagaland Tribe
History of Kachari Kingdom is nothing but the History of Dimasa Kachari Kingdom. The Dimasa people (or Dima-basa, and also called Dimasa-Kachari ) are a group of people inhabiting Assam and Nagaland states in Northeastern India. Gifted with a rich cultural heritage, Kachari tribe is one of the indigenous tribe of North-East India. One of the noted features of Kachari tribe is their multi-hued tribal attire. The Major religion followed byKachari tribe are Hinduism and Christianity.
Agriculture is the principal occupation and main source of livelihood of the Dimasa Kacharis. The Dimasa mainly cultivate maize, sesame, cotton and others. They also cultivate pineapples, oranges, cotton and mustard to a limited extent.
The dance forms of the Dimasa Kachari are complex in character. They are strictly dependent on instrumental music. No songs are used. Kharam (drum) follows the rhythm of the Muri and so also the dancers.
The Kachari nagaland tribes are mainly found in the Dimapur district of Nagaland
Main Festival: Bushu or Buhsu Jiba [Celebrated every year last week of January]
Language: Grao-Dima (Dimasa) language.
6. Khiamniungan – Nagaland Tribe
The Khiamniungan tribe is one of the major nagaland tribes, with habitation both in India and Myanmar. Geographically, the land of Khiamniungans is located in the Eastern part of Nagaland and in the North-Western part of Myanmar. The nomenclature of the tribe ‘ Khiamniungan’ is a compound word formed by three words: ‘Khiam’ means water, ‘Niu’ means great and ‘Ngan’ means source. Thus, the meaning of the term Khiamniungan is ‘source of great water or river’. The nomenclature derives from the biggest river of the land (laang) and to the river to which it ultimately confluence (Chindwin). The main river formed from the watershed of Khiamniungan area is ‘Laang’ known as ‘Zungki’ in the downstream that ultimately flows into the Chindwin river in Myanmar. Some earlier written sources wrongly referred to the Khiamniungans as ‘Kalyo-Kengnyu’ named after the snow clad mountain of patkoi ranges locally known as Khulioking.
The people of Khiamniungan trace back their origin to a place called ‘Khiamngan’. Legend says that there was a great flood. There upon people began to go up into higher elevation. As the flood subsides they descend downhill and started the first settlement of the new era at ‘Khiamngan’. The Khiamniungans after living for three consecutive generations in Khiamngan gradually moved to different directions to form several hamlets/villages.
One group migrated to a place known as Lumoking and further to formed Pathso and Peshu ranges. Likewise another group migrated to Nokhu thangsoun and gradually went northward to form the present Thang and Wolam ranges. Whereas, one group who got settled at a place known as Shiadkhan and finally to form Nokhu range. Later on with the increase of population, migration to the further East started and eventually extended up to the Northern bank of Chuhoongan (Chindwin) river and beyond in Myanmar.
The weavers from Khiamniungan tribe are famous for their fine and delicate designs. The traditional Khiamiungan attires consist of bright red and bright deep blue colored dresses. The ornaments are made of cowries and conch shells. The tribal musical instruments include drums made of gourds and bamboo flutes. They also traditionally practised jhum cultivation (slash and burn agriculture).
The Khiamniungan tribes are mostly found in Tuensang district of Nagaland, India and the adjoining areas of Burma.
Main Festival: Miu [Celebrated every year in the second week of May]
Language: Khiamniungan language.
7. Konyak – Nagaland Tribe
Konyaks have been known as fierce headhunters for centuries until the 1970s. Killing an enemy and bringing back their head was considered a rite of passage and was rewarded by a tattoo on the face or the chest of the warrior.
Jewellery has also been a big part of their customs; the number of heads on a warrior’s necklace showed the number of people he has killed. Skulls and bones of buffalo, deer, boars, and hornbills still decorate the walls of every Konyak house, showcasing the pride and respect of the warrior. The skulls of captured enemies were also prominently displayed once as prizes from the generations of hunting days. But when head hunting was abolished, these skulls were removed from the homes and buried.
The Konyak nagaland tribes are mostly found in Mon district of Nagaland. Also in Myanmar and in the Tirap & Changlang districts of Arunachal. They are known in Arunachal as Wancho Konyak.
Main Festival: Aoleang [Celebrated every year in the month of April from 1 to 6]
Language: Konyak language.
8. Kuki – Nagaland Tribe
The Kuki is a generic term for a number of mixed group of people who have migrated into India through Burma from central Asia. In Burma they are called Chin & in Indian frontier states they are best identified as Kukis. The village headman wields considerable power in their day-to-day life affairs. The headman is assisted by some wise man called Siemang and Pachong & all house-hold heads of the village congregate to discuss & resolve matters relating to the village & the community. Though Christianity has brought considerable changes in their socio-economic life, yet the Kukis still adhere to much of their old customs, laws and habits which their illustrious forefathers adopted from time immemorial.
The Kukis grow dwarf cotton and spun yarns for their own use. They use vegetable dyes in a myriad of hues and weave dreamlike designs mostly geometric in nature. The menfolk prefer colourful Sangkhol, a jacket & a pheichawm(short lungi or dhoti) and wrap a chaddar which is sometimes embroidered like a snake skin.They also wear head dresses viz., tuhpah, delkop.
The women adorn themselves with a nih-san( red slip) underneath a pon’ve(a wrap around) which was worn from above the chest. The ornaments included bilba( earings), hah-le-chao(bracelets & bangles), khi(necklace) & occassionaly bilkam ( a type of ring shaped earing to stretch the ear lobe . They split their tresses into two and wrap them over their heads into fine knots.
The Kukis are people with strong Cultural and Customary ties where ever they are, each individual life is bind with traditions and Customs. The acceptance of social dependence/ coexistence, respect for society and royalty are embedded in the cultural ethos.
The Kukis are scattered in different Districts, sizable numbers of population settled in Dimapur and Peren District, with Ahthibung town in Peren district as their Headquarter.
Main Festival: Mimkuut [Celebrated every year in the month of January]
Language: Kuki language.
9. Lotha – Nagaland Tribe
Lothas are one of the largest tribes of Nagaland. Wokha, a district headquarters in Nagaland, is inhabited by the Lothas, for the most part of history, this place remained isolated from the outer world. The town is known for its shawls, which are handmade using a technique which has been passed down through generations.
The Lotha Nagaland tribes practiced headhunting in the older days. After the arrival of Christianity, they gave up this practice. Lothas are renowned for their colorful dances and folk songs. The male members wear shawls indicating their social status. The prestigious social shawl for women is Opvuram and Longpensu for men.
Lothatribe is one of the advanced tribe. Their main occupation is agriculture. They practice jhum and terrace cultivation. Lotha women weave clothes. Lotha men make handicraft.
The Lothatribes are mostly found Wokha district of Nagaland.
Main Festival: Tokhu Emong [Celebrated every year in the month of November]
Language: Lotha language.
10. Phom – Nagaland Tribe
Though in the past Phom tribe, were fierce headhunters, having rivalry even among the Phoms, but with the advent of Western civilizations like education and Christianity, they have transformed themselves into a refine society and are now rapidly coming up at par with other society of the state, particularly the younger generation. The forefathers of the Phom Nagaland Tribe practice a ritual to which the early missionaries have term it as Animisms. Today the Phom tribe are Christians and as such the Church plays an important role in their social setup. Like the Konyaks and the Chang, they used to expose the dead bodies on raised platforms instead of burying them.
The traditional Phom dressing was indicative of the social status of the wearer. The ordinary clothing included a white (vihe-ashak) or a dark blue (nempong-ashak) shawl-like body wrap. A man who had taken a head or offered feasts had the privilege to wear a cowrie-ornamented shawl (fanet-henyu). The women used to wear skirts called shung-nang, which came in different colors, designs and bands.
Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the Phoms, and the tribe practices jhum cultivation. The Phoms also have a tradition of pottery, bamboo work and spinning.
The Phomtribes are mostly found in Longleng district of Nagaland. Their traditional territory lies between the territories of Konyak in the north-east, the Ao in the west and the Chang in the south. Yongnyah is the largest Phom village.
Main Festival: Monyu [Celebrated every year in the month of April]
Language: Phom language.
11. Pochury – Nagaland Tribe
The Pochury identity is of relatively recent origin. It is a composite tribe formed by three Naga communities: Kupo, Kuchu and Khuri. The word Pochury is an acronym formed by the names of three native villages of these tribes: Sapo, Kechuri and Khury. According to the Pochuri legends, these villages fought battles against each others, but united into a single tribe after their elders negotiated peace. Besides the three main communities, migrants belonging to the Sema, Sangtam and Rengma tribes have also been absorbed in the Pochury group.
The Pochurys were dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. Hunting, forest produce and fishing were the major subsidiary occupations. The Pochurys mainly practised jhum cultivation (slash-and-burn).
The Pochury tribe’s native territory is located in the eastern part of the Phek district, centered on the Meluri town (166 km from the state capital Kohima).
Main Festival: Yemshe [Celebrated every year in the month of October]
Language: Pochury language.
12. Rengma – Nagaland Tribe
Rengma is a Nagaland tribe found in Nagaland and Assam states of India. According to the local traditions, the Rengmas and the Lothas were once part of a single tribe. There are also oral records of a mighty struggle between the combined Rengma villages, and the Lotha village of Phiro. The Rengma Nagas are divided into two groups. The Eastern Rengmas, and the Western Rengmas. The Rengmas are experts in terrace cultivation.
The traditional Rengma clothing consists of various types of clothes, which are indicative of the status and position of the weavers. A man who has not been able to offer a great feast, or has never killed an enemy, may wear an ordinary type of cloth called rhikho. Rhikho is a white cloth with four narrow black bands. The number of black bands varies with the age of the wearer. Moyet tsu is another ordinary type of cloth, worn by the young men. It is a dark blue cloth with a very broad median band, and embroidered with a thin zigzag pattern in red at the edges. Alungtsu is a cloth for well-to-do men, who have not yet offered a great feast. Teri Phiketsu is a shawl, which requires the wearer to perform the head hunting ceremony.
The headquarter of the Rengmas in Nagaland is at Tseminyu.
Main Festival: Ngada [Celebrated every year in the month of November]
Language: Rengma language.
13. Sangtam – Nagaland Tribe
Sangtams were also among the first group of people (now Nagas) who were brought from Mongolia to China and deployed in the construction of the Great Wall of China. To differentiate this group from the mainland Chinese, their ears were pierced. But due to hardship faced at the construction site, the group of Nagas left the work site and migrated south towards Burma (Myanmar) and settled at Maikhel. From Maikhel, some of the Nagas migrated and finally settled at present day Khezhakhenoma. From Khezhakhenoma, the Sangtams again migrated to Shukumükoh, Mütsali and again moved to a place called Khuza, but they did not stay long and a splinter group moved up the Kihrü (Tizu) river and settled at a place called Jutruhungnyang. The other group did not cross the river but moved westwards settling in Kiloru, Tukunasa and finally settled at Ningneng(Nunumi) village.
Due to certain social disturbances the Sangtams could not continue to settle in this village and further splintered to two groups. One group migrated to the East and finally settled at Yangthrü(Thsinga) and the other group moved northwards and finally settled at Hurong village (now abandoned and located near New Tsadang village). (As per oral history handed down through generation)
Sangtam tribe practice jhum, or shifting cultivation. Unlike other Naga tribes in Nagaland, many of the Sangtam have retained their traditional beliefs in spite of embracing Christianity at the same time. Sangtams celebrate twelve different festivals, in particular Mongmong, all of which are affiliated with their traditional culture and religion.
The Sangtam Nagland tribes are mostly found in Tuensang and Kiphire districts of Nagaland.
Main Festival: Mongmong [Celebrated every year in the month of September]
Language: Sangtam language.
14. Sumi – Nagaland Tribe
The Sumi tribe is one of the recognised scheduled tribes of India. The Sumis practised headhunting like other Naga people before the arrival of the Christian missionaries and their subsequent conversion to Christianity. Sumis have two different clan-heads, viz. Swu (Sumi) and Tuku (Tukumi).
The genesis of Sumi Nagaland tribe is also said to have it’s roots of existence in the Khezakeno Village which is claimed to be the center point of Sumi history.
The Sumis are known for their soybean fermentation (akhuni) skills and the dishes flavored with the akhuni is a delicacy we find in many hotels in Nagaland. Rice beer is also famous among the sumis.
The Sumi Nagaland tribes mainly inhabit the Zunheboto district of Nagaland and a major part of Dimapur district.
Main Festival: Tuluni [Celebrated every year in the month of July]
Language: Sumi language.
15. Yimchunger – Nagaland Tribe
According to the Yimchunger tradition, the tribe emerged at a village called Moru and then came to Jure village. The Yimchungers and the Khiamniungans are believed to have migrated to the present-day Nagaland from Upper Burma as one group, in one wave. They separated into two groups at the Moru village. The word Yimchunger means “the ones who have reached their place of choice”.
Strong ties to cultural identity in the form of their love and passion for agriculture are reflected in the hymns and beats of songs devoted to the craft. The musical instruments of the Yimchungers include simple log drums, trumpets and flutes, similar to that of the Angamis. The traditional dress of the Yimchungers includes colorful cane-made headgear decorated with hair and bird feathers.
The Yimchunger nagaland tribes mainly inhabit the Tuensang districtof Nagaland.
Main Festival: Metemneo [Celebrated every year in the month of August]
Language: Yimchungru language.
16. Zeliang – Nagaland Tribe
The term “Zeliang” is used to indicate Zeme and Liangmai tribes. Earlier they use the Term zeliangrong which is coined to indicate three closely related southern Naga tribes, namely Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei. At present, term Zeliang is used, indicating two tribes- Zeme and Liangmai tribes and their sub-tribes. Zeliang area spread from Nagaland to Assam to Manipur. It is known that the Zeliang Nagas occupy the vast land bordering all the three states. They were headhunters and great warriors in the past until Christianity arrived and influenced their lives.
The Zeliang Nagaland tribes practice wet cultivation or Panikheti and terraced cultivation. They practice Jhum cultivation though they prefer Panikheti. They produce food grains, vegetables and cash crops. Maize, millet, tapioca are also grown. Potatoes have been also introduced. Supplying fire wood is one of the main occupations of the Zeliangs. Weaving is the traditional household industry of the Zeliang. Besides weaving they are exceptionally skilled in handicrafts like bamboo works, cane works, pottery and black smithy and so on.
The Zeliang tribes are mainly found in the Peren district of Nagaland.
Main Festival: Hega [Celebrated every year in the month of February]
Language: Zeliang language.
Tradition is to be understood as the total heritage, beliefs, customs, styles and opinions-transmitted from one generation to another generation. The word tradition is derived from the Latin word “Tradire” which means to transfer or to deliver. Tradition has also been explained as ideas, principles, knowledge and usages transmitted from generation to generation over a long period of time. In other words, a tradition is embodied in habits, customs and norms which express the prevalent values and beliefs.